I am going through one of my bouts of insomnia again. Each time it feels a bit worse: lasting for longer, less actual sleep each night, bringing with it more depression and crabbiness and all sorts of unpleasantries. Sleep was never an issue for me until five years ago or so, and the first real stretch of insomnia was almost immediately countered by my taking time off and writing. (Oh that short, golden time!) But since then I’ve had increasing periods of sleeplessness, and this last one has been a beaut.
I don’t usually write about personal things here; this blog has always been, first and foremost, a process notebook, for me to record the mundane ups and downs of starting over with my writing, especially the novels. But this too is part of process, for not only does my insomnia bring my writing to an utter halt, it drags out every dark doubt and fear and makes them dance for my entertainment at 3 a.m.
As these bouts, these episodes, become more frequent and of longer duration, I have tried: various medications, both prescription and over-the-counter; meditation; exercise; cutting out caffeine, alcohol, sugars, etc.; music; breathing; visualization; and now acupuncture. But the only thing that has made any difference (I say with one decent night’s sleep under my belt, we’ll see how this goes) is writing.
I was 14 when a teacher first suggested I keep a daily journal, and I never have. I am utterly, utterly sh*t at daily routines. I do things in cycles, a few weeks on, a week off, a few months on, a few months off . . . and sometimes those cycles drag into years.
But last night I cracked open the page, put the date in the upper right corner, and wrote. Not for a story, or a deadline, or to try and rework part blah of the novel for the umpteenth time . . . I wrote to me, for me. I preempted all the horrible dark 3 a.m. thoughts by having them at 7:45 with a cat on my lap and a cup of herbal tea. I ran through all the worst-case scenarios, all my worries, all the ways I felt I was failing and all the fears I have looking forward. I wrote everything out and then I took a step back and described those thoughts as cycles: what they’re based upon, how I make little molehills into mountains, how those mountains will make me feel in the morning with 2 hours of sleep.
And then I went to bed, and I read about hangings in London, and I slept for 4 and a half hours.
Which alone is an achievement, but then I lay awake for an hour and thought of story possibilities and then dozed and slept and dozed for 3 hours more. And today, right now, I feel like myself—tired but fully here, fairly balanced, feeling generally OK about the day.
All in all, a remarkable result, especially because the choppier parts of the night weren’t tinged with those dark, anxious thoughts.
I’ve generally been a little pooh-poohing about the new vogue for handwriting I’ve seen among fiction writers. As someone who had a terrible episode with carpal tunnel and related injuries (and still has relapses, and let’s not talk about the damn cysts), I’m quite careful about my hands, and a good typing setup is always kinder than clutching a pen and a notebook. (We won’t get into the costs of pens and notebooks versus the one-time splurge of a used computer that also tracks our finances, emails our families, stores our photographs, etc.) But as a way to vent, to express all the crud of an exhausted, depressed mind? I’ve spent so much time before this screen that I’d forgotten how much of my ability to express myself is tied up in that movement of hand over paper. Heart to hand, bypassing that cynical, dour head of mine: last night it worked where all else has spectacularly failed.